Effects of attachment on work, love and health in adulthood
It is true that attachment appears during the first year of our life and develops its characteristics according to the behaviour of our primary carers (in terms of their availability, receptivity, validation and support).
But attachment can be defined as the simple approach to someone we consider to have more resources than ourselves to face an experience, with the aim of feeling safe. In this sense, we can initiate attachment (or approximation) behaviours regardless of our age .
Brief definition of attachment and its types
Bowlby (1973) defined attachment behaviour as that which gets another person, important to us, to come to our side or stay with us .
According to this author, it appears in children when they want to stay close to their reference figure, they are resistant to it leaving and/or they need a safe base on which to explore the world and to return to when something is not right.
Two types of attachment have been defined: safe or unsafe.
1. Secure attachment
Individuals with secure attachment have grown up around affective and/or receptive people . They have learned to trust in the availability and reciprocity of those who have been or are important in their lives.
2. Unsafe attachment
Within the style of insecure attachment, we distinguish between avoidant attachment and anxious-ambivalent attachment .
People with avoidant attachment have grown up around unhealthy and/or inflexible caregivers. They have learned to be suspicious of the availability and reciprocity of those who have been or are important in their lives.
People with anxious-ambivalent attachment have grown up around figures that are inconsistent in their availability, that is, at times they have been insensitive and at others they have been intrusive.
How does attachment style influence work?
Hazan and Shaver (1990) proposed that the work fulfills in the adults the function of exploration of the children . Taking into account this premise, they carried out a study whose results suggested the following:
1. People with secure attachment are satisfied with their work
Studies suggest that people with secure attachments are confident in their abilities to do their jobs. Also, that they trust in the availability of others to help them when they need it . Studies have detected that they are people who tend to feel satisfied and valued in the work environment, and who usually manage to ensure that the professional does not interfere in the social, family and personal spheres.
2. People with avoidant attachment are more likely to work compulsively
According to the study by Hazan and Shaver (1990), it has been suggested that individuals with avoidant attachment can focus on work as a way of avoiding intimate relationships . In this way, although they do not have to doubt their performance, they can act in such a way that work interferes with their relationships and/or their health.
3. People with anxious-ambivalent attachment may try to satisfy their needs at work in other areas
According to the above-mentioned study, people with an anxious-ambivalent attachment may have difficulty separating the work environment from the staff .
This could lead to confusing situations where attempts are made to meet relational needs through work, resulting in distractions, difficulty in completing projects or working in teams. All of this could lead to a feeling of dissatisfaction with one’s performance and a sense of not being valued by colleagues.
How does the attachment style influence the couple?
It should be noted that much more research is needed in this regard. In any case, the studies carried out so far in relation to attachment style and love relationships suggest the following:
1. Couples with secure attachment are better able to express their emotions, seek and give support
It has been observed that in situations of high anxiety, couples with a secure attachment style are more capable of seeking support from their partners . In turn, it seems that these partners are more supportive, establishing a congruence between what is asked for and what is received, which facilitates and reinforces intimacy and satisfaction in the couple.
2. People with avoidant attachment distance themselves from their partners when stressed and may show difficulty in committing
It has been suggested that people with avoidant attachments would tend to distance themselves from their partners, both physically and emotionally, when they are feeling a lot of anxiety. Furthermore, the ability to offer support would also decrease in these situations .
This would be congruent with these people’s desire to be self-sufficient and with the learned mistrust of the availability of attachment figures to help or support them when they need it.
At the level of the couple, this could pose a risk of dissatisfaction and intimacy difficulties. In any case, it should be taken into account that it has been observed that this difficulty for closeness in individuals with avoidant attachment decreases in situations of stability, so it seems that it would not be correct to consider these people cold and distant per se , but that these characteristics would be activated in specific situations.
3. People with anxious-ambivalent attachment tend to be more dependent on their partners
It has been observed that individuals with an anxious-ambivalent attachment tend to constantly seek intimacy in relationships , which, in the couple, can be perceived (at least initially and depending on the degree and intensity) as a greater interest in the relationship.
However, these are people who feel insecure and worried about any separation and who tend to use emotion-centred coping strategies, which may encourage conflict and dissatisfaction in the long term.
How does attachment style influence health behaviors?
Health behaviors are related to the type of response to stress and to the capacity for emotional regulation. Feeney and Ryan (1994) proposed a model that integrates early family experiences of illness, attachment style and health-related adult behaviors . According to their studies, we could consider the following results:
1. People with secure attachment are able to regulate negative emotionality, but know how to ask for help
It has been observed that individuals with a secure attachment would have more tools to manage the emotions that arise when faced with a physical discomfort or a potential health problem. Also, that they would be able to ask for help and advice when they need it, in an assertive manner and consistent with the symptoms.
2. People with avoidant attachment make less visits to the doctor
According to Feeny and Ryan (1994), people with avoidant attachment would take longer to see a doctor when faced with physical discomfort . This fits with the general tendency of these people not to seek support or advice in stressful situations. It should be noted that, in the area of health, this avoidance could have serious consequences.
3. People with anxious-ambivalent attachment complain more
It has been observed that people with an anxious-ambivalent attachment are more aware and more aware of any manifestation of stress, negative emotion or physical symptom . This, together with their tendency to worry, would make them more likely to complain about physical discomfort and to consult specialists more.
In short, our style of attachment has repercussions on the way we relate to each other and behave in adult life . As we grow up, we internalize beliefs and expectations about our abilities, our worth, our right to be loved, taken into account and helped by others.
We also learn (more or less effective) communication and emotional regulation strategies. Depending on all this, in the face of situations of exploration (work), intimacy (couple) or stress (health), different reactions and behaviours will be activated in us, which are worth detecting in order to get to know each other, understand each other and ask for help to make changes in case they generate a significant interference in our daily life.
- Feeney, J. and Noller P. (2001). Adult attachment. Bilbao: Desclée de Brouwer.
- Medina, C. J., Rivera, L. Y. and Aguasvivas J. A. (2016). Adult attachment and perceived quality of relationships: evidence from a young adult population. Health & Society 7(3).